Wednesday, March 19, 2014

On November 16, 1871, a blizzard abruptly roared out of warm autumn skies on the plains of Kansas. The snow continued for three days. Many helpless travelers were caught in the storm. Among them was a young, recently married woman from England.

This young woman, known only by a story told years later by Kansas resident Annie Gilkeson,was nicknamed Stormy Petrel. She had come to American from England with her brothers after her father lost his wealth to drinking. Stormy and her brothers settled in Kansas. Soon she fell in love with another settler from England, and they married.

All of them were clueless about farming. The dry plains of Kansas were so different from lush, green England that they had trouble scratching out a living. Then they heard about the money being made from hunting buffalo. Being English and used to fox hunting, they were enamored of the idea of hunting for profit, so they decided to sell as much as they could of their unnecessary belongings and put the cash into a camping outfit. Then they set out to make their fortune hunting buffalo.

When they began their journey on November 16th, the weather was balmy. They sang songs from England and had fun. Caught up in the adventure, they forgot about being homesick for the rain and fog of their homeland. Their joy was to be short-lived. Soon clouds gathered in the sky, and the air grew chilly. Had they been seasoned pioneers, they would have recognized the clouds as "snow clouds." Stormy had to wrap up in her fancy little coat. Snow began to fall in gentle flakes, but the foursome wasn’t worried. The land agent who sold them their property had assured them that Kansas never had bad weather. The group found some trees near a creek and made camp. The snow began falling steadily, and they made dinner as best they could. Still, they went to bed expecting to find clear sky the next morning.

During the night the temperature dropped. Snow fell more heavily and soon wind blew in gusts. When they awoke, they were nearly buried in snow. Making breakfast was impossible. The night before they’d observed a town about a mile away, and the men decided to go there for better supplies. For some reason they left Stormy at the little camp, tucked in the wagon, probably thinking she’d be safer there.

The men made it to the town, gathered more supplies, and headed back toward the camp. The wind increased with each step, driving snow into their faces, almost blinding them. They could see only a few feet in front of the, and wandered in circles the whole day. As night fell, they realized further searching was futile, and they followed lights back to town to stay the night and begin searching first thing in the morning.

In the meantime, Stormy fought the cold by wrapping in everything she could find in the wagon. She ate the little food that was left and drank water from melted snow. Her thoughts during this time were never recorded, but she survived the long day and night. The next morning she found the wagon buried in snow. She dug her way out realizing that searchers would never be able to find her, so she put her red scarf on the end of an umbrella and hoisted it like a flag of distress.

That red scarf saved her life. The men awakened early and began their search again. When they saw the red scarf, they whooped with joy. They broke through the drift around the wagon. Stormy’s husband lifted her numb, freezing body to his horse and carried her back to the little town. Stormy was so weak, they had to stop at the first house they found where an elderly widow lived. She nursed Stormy back to health and it was she who gave Stormy the nickname, Stormy Petrel, which is another word for Storm Petrel, a small seabird of the open ocean believed to be a harbinger of bad weather.


  1. Wow! This is such an interesting story - I'm glad it has a happy ending. :) And it's quite fitting after just watching Frozen, LOL. Thank you for sharing, Candice!


  2. I'm glad you enjoyed it! When I find stories like this, I wonder about all the stories that were never told. How many people had adventures like this one, but they will be left untold? Fascinating!

  3. Gives one a renewed appreciation for today's weather system!

  4. This really does read like a movie off the Hallmark Channel. Very interesting, Candice!


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